23 lost years

At the Flying J truck stop near Fancy Gap, we slept in the back of the van. In the morning, Barry tumbled out the back door (it’s about 4-1/2 feet down to the ground from our bed) and headed to the bathroom.

A few minutes later, I clambered out that way, too. A white SUV with dark tinted windows and Georgia plates was parked next to us, and a slender black man got out of the driver’s seat. He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d, and a round woman came around the car to take the wheel. She had that characteristic I’ve-been-riding-too-long limp.

They met on the driver’s side, and he surprised her with a big hug. She threw her head back and started laughing; she was still laughing merrily as she slid into the driver’s seat and closed the door.

The man stayed beside the car and got out a cigarette. I smiled at him and asked, “What did you say to make her laugh like that?”

He broke into a broad smile himself.

“I haven’t been able to drive for 23 years,” he said, “you know, problems with my license… I got it all straightened out and got my license two months ago.”

“Wow! Congratulations!”

“The last time we did this trip,” he continued, “she had to do all the driving. Now, I think, since I’m the male, that I should be able to do more than I can… but I can’t. There are children involved…” I realized that there were two child seats in the car, behind the tinted windows.

They were headed from Atlanta to Pittsburgh, and they’d driven all night. “I have to be responsible; I can’t be driving when I’m sleepy,” he said. I nodded, and we were silent for a moment, thinking about how dangerous driving can be. I wondered about his 23 lost years.

“I know what you mean about those long drives,” I replied. “Last year, I drove across the country, from Seattle to Beaufort, by myself.”

Now it was his turn to marvel. “You must have seen a lot,” he said. “What did you do?”

“Mostly, I just looked for interesting people to talk to, like yourself!”

We chuckled, shook hands, and wished each other safe travels. His cigarette forgotten, he got into the passenger seat and headed for Pittsburgh.